Mining gems

Why we have failed to graze on this wealth?

Kashmir Magazine

Sajad Bazaz
A joint venture between Jammu and Kashmir Minerals Limited and a Delhi based mining company to explore and exploit the sapphire mines in Padder belt of Kishtwar district has come under sharp criticism from local industries players. The move to engage a non local company to mine the sapphire - a precious gemstone, worldwide known as Kashmir sapphire, is called an act of 'plunder' of the state resources.

Even as the protest of local industry players against the government decision has pushed the authorities on the back foot, the fact remains that we have failed to establish our own gems and jewellery industry despite having huge resources to capitalize upon. This industry symbolizes our tradition in many ways. It is a legacy that passes from generation to generation. It doesn’t include only conventional gold but also a variety of precious and semi-precious stones. We haven’t seen any such initiative to explore the true potential of this industry in the state. We can simply sum up that the gem and jewellery industry here has never been vibrant.

Remarkably, our state itself has a unique place in the global gemstone resources base because of the top quality sapphire deposits it has in the Paddar. These deposits were first discovered in 1882 and there has, since then, been a large quantity of high quality Kashmir sapphires produced, for which the state became famous worldwide. Though we have a very high quality of sapphire and some other semiprecious gemstone deposit, the gem stone based industries failed to get attention of the government and never emerged as an industry in the state. We haven’t even seen any such facility for characterization of the gemstones in the state.

I have come across a few consultant of international repute in Gemology who have studied the huge unexplored potential in gem and jewellery industry of Kashmir. These gemologists have found Kashmir sapphires so highly valued because the finest specimens have a superb royal blue color and a velvety texture due to fine silk inclusions. But they expressed their displeasure that new sapphires are no longer discovered in Kashmir.

If experts opinions are to be believed, the stocks at Padder if utilised could generate Rs 6000 to Rs 8000 crore revenue for the state that would significantly help in addressing the unemployment problem. But due to the neglect, Kashmir sapphires have a mythical reputation in the gemstone world. Even as the most valuable sapphires in the world are from our place, hardly you see one except at a rare gems auction or in a museum.

There are some questions which our planners and even those local industry and commerce players need to answer. Despite so rich in gem and jewellery sector, why we failed to have a jewellery cluster? Was it not possible to set up gem and jewellery exchanges with facilities such as appraiser and testing laboratory for precious stones? And, why can’t we have a strong demand to declare the entire valley as a special economic zone (SEZ) for export promotion of these products?

Local players need to think and act so that we can become part of the growth of the sector and can benefit our local economies.

So, rich resources are available with us in abundance. Time is still on our side. Let’s develop our gems and jewellery industry in an organized manner and capitalize on the back of healthy demand from western markets like the US and Europe to revolutionise our economy.

However, all this depends on the availability of skilled work force. Let me revisit example of local unemployed youth who had taken up entrepreneurship in gem and jewellery industry. Their project reports were approved and even bank loan was sanctioned. But lack of technical knowhow to handle the machinery required to cut and shape up the raw stones failed them in the venture. Since there were not technical training facilities available in the state, they were supposed to travel outside state for a few weeks training. Nobody was ready to bear their training expenditure. So their projects for want of few thousand rupees got shelved despite having huge viability and scope.

Precisely, gem and jewellery industry is highly unorganised. It can become vibrant once we have local skilled work force in the industry.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)